Deaf community adapts to new reality in pandemic

Face masks acting as a communication barrier
Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 6:55 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Masks may halt transmission of COVID-19, but for some it also halts communication.

“The deaf blind have the most challenges to overcome or to try to communicate,” said Donna Cantu, Case Manager for the deaf at AIDB Dothan Regional Center. “It’s so easy to just overlook them.”

American sign language is dependent on facial expression and facial grammar, but the two are hidden while wearing a mask.

“When someone is in a mask and trying to talk to me when I’m in a store I can’t hear them of course,” Cantu said. “They think I’m stuck up because they try to talk to me and they don’t know I can’t hear, so they think I’m just ignoring them.”

The AIDB Dothan Regional Center has provided clear masks and face shields for its staff for when they meet with clients face to face.

“The clear mask does help because you can see more facial expressions, but it sometimes fogs up in the clear area,” Cantu said.

For now, the facility is meeting virtually through Zoom, Facetime and other video apps.

“Deaf people can communicate more now than ever, there is just a plethora of devices,” Cantu said.

Cantu said technology during this pandemic, like video meetings, email and close captioning, have been a big help for those who are hard of hearing.

“The technology we have today is wonderful because 20 years ago, oh my heavens, we didn’t have it,” Cantu said. “We had nothing to go through, not like today, we had no video meetings, nothing we could go through to communicate. It was hard back then, no captioning even. So the technology has really, really taken off and it’s wonderful for the deaf community.”

Cantu said American sign language is a foreign language, it is not English.

“ASL is a concept language and so English uses words and sometimes the concept is not in the captioning because of course it is English captioning,” Cantu said.

The AIDB Dothan Regional Center is still going through phases of reopening. Next week they will be back full time.

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